First Person Walker Footnotes #3: Tale of Tales

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esearching for my article on "First Person Walkers" I sent a few questions to some of the developers regularly accused of producing "walking simulators", a term mainly used in a derogatory fashion. Tale of Tales, godfathers of artistic indie (not-)games and makers of quite a few games where walking is central to the gameplay, shared their thoughts on the topic.

Do you find the term "walking simulator" used to describe your games derogatory?

Not at all. Walking is one of the nicest things one can do on this planet. Very worthy of simulation. And the fact that we can now simulate the act of walking in a work of art illustrates in a very simple and direct way how exciting and new videogames are as a medium.

That being said, the term is a bit inaccurate for our games because the walking is rarely their crucial aspect. It's generally more important where you are walking and when and with whom. We're all about the nouns and the adjectives (more so, even, than the verbs).

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How would you define player agency in your game?

Freedom of interpretation is more important to us than structural choices or decisions that impact the flow of the game. 

Questions about agency always confuse us. We design with this medium as a whole. We don't separate or emphasize any particular aspect of it. What's interesting to us is that this medium is so many things. And all of those things are means to an end. The end being an joyful experience of beauty.

So we don't define agency at all. When we feel a certain interaction will improve the experience, we put it in. When we feel it diminishes the experience, we remove it. Agency needs to serve the purpose of immersion for us, of connecting the player with the fiction. It's not always about control, if that's what you're asking. It depends on the theme.

Freedom of interpretation is more important to us than structural choices or decisions that impact the flow of the game. We often think of our games as tools, tools to experiment with our feelings and to explore certain topics. We want players to come up with their own view on things and we're always delighted if a player talks about an experience with our game that we did not expect anyone to have. This is playfulness to us. The ability to become part of the game and for the game to become part of you. To play together.

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Would you agree that games in general are unique in that they allow players to experience atmosphere, rather than merely be shown or told? Would you agree that the agency you allow your players is mostly about shaping this experience?

Atmosphere is indeed very important to us. And it does feel like the videogames medium, or the computer in general, is very well equipped for experiencing crafted atmospheres. If only by compensating for the different levels of imagination that people have, or are willing to use. This is also why we feel that videogames can make deep aesthetic experiences more accessible to a larger, less initiated audience.

And it is true that the things that a player does in a space and the impact they have on that space can help the sense of presence required for the experience of atmosphere. The computer may not be unique in this capacity, but it does seem very suitable.

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How would you define "gameplay" in regard to your game?

We don't want to be stifled by conventions too much. So "gameplay" is whatever you do in our games.

We wouldn't. We don't like defining things. In fact we sort of consider it our job, as artists, to challenge all definitions. Because to us, a big part of art creation, is asking "what if" and very often "what if things were different?" We don't like pinning things down. We prefer to open things up, to explore alternatives. It's a weird sort of reflex, I guess.

We're trying to create amusing entertainment. We don't want to be stifled by conventions and expectations too much. So gameplay is whatever you do in our games.

Did you receive negative feedback for your game's lack of "real gameplay"? How did you react?

That's far from the worst negative feedback we've received. Usually this just reads as "I don't like your game." Which is sometimes a concern, because we want people to like our games. But we know that giving in to their demands doesn't work for us. When we try that they like the result even less. So we have to find other ways to make them like our work.

In the past some people have claimed that The Graveyard would have been just as good as a movie. I think we've moved on since then and now everyone does understand the difference. Which doesn't mean they suddenly like the game. But a world with a spectrum of games, where some people like some games and others like others, is actually an ideal situation.

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[...] “walking simulators” at VideoGameTourism.at. The three, with Ed Key, Dan Pinchbeck, and Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn of Tale of Tales respectively, are all available in English on the typically German-language [...]

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